Did you know that having a panic attack while sleeping is not rare and is actually quite common among many individuals? However, as much as these facts serve as an indicator that you are not alone, we understand that nocturnal attacks can be rather distressing for those experiencing them.
Although the actual cause of panic attacks remains unknown, many factors contribute to its occurrence. Therefore, we will discuss some of these factors, tips on how to stop panic attacks while sleeping, and provide greater insight into these attacks, especially at night.
What Causes Nocturnal Panic Attacks?
Researchers are still attempting to pinpoint the root cause of nocturnal panic attacks. However, what they do know is that nocturnal panic attacks are common in people with a history of panic disorders. Here are some of the factors identified by experts that have proven to contribute to these panic attacks at night.
Family history of panic attacks
Generally, researchers have often found a link between genetics and certain mental health conditions. If there is a history of panic attacks in your family, it may be the cause of your very own panic attacks. One study found that if a close family member has a panic disorder, the likelihood increases to around 30–40%.
Did you know that feeling afraid is a well-known symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder, better known as PTSD? Therefore, experiencing intense fear at the most random time could mean you are having a panic attack. Interestingly, your past trauma could also bring on nocturnal panic attacks as well. These attacks are often accompanied by fears of dying or a loss of control, creating a sense of the things happening around you being unreal.
If you have underlying conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, sleep disorders, and the likes, these conditions are likely to cause panic-like symptoms that often result in panic attacks. Notably, these attacks often happen whether you are awake or asleep or even when there are no apparent triggers.
Chemical imbalances in the brain
Interestingly, the human brain consists of different types of neurotransmitters. Now, if you are wondering what this is, neurotransmitters help with communicating information between nerve cells in the brain. Therefore, a person is said to become more prone to developing panic disorder-related symptoms if one or more of their neurotransmitters are not balanced.
Major life stress
Did you know that even when you are asleep, your brain and body remain active? Yes, that’s right. So, if in your waking hours you are dealing with major life stressors, such as unemployment, divorce, debt, or anything else, these stressors can affect you even during your sleep. Hence, the experience of nighttime panic attacks. If you are experiencing major life changes, seeking in-person or online therapy can help reveal stress.
Previous panic attacks
This goes without saying – if you have previously experienced panic attacks at night or even normal panic attacks, it is only natural for you to fear having another one. However, this fear, in particular, could result in increased stress levels, a higher risk for more attacks, and could potentially lead to sleep loss.
The Symptoms of a Panic Attack
- Extremely high levels of anxiety, with or without a cause
- Rapid heartbeat
- Dizzy spells, feeling weak
- Numbness in the hands and fingers
- Sense of terror
- Feeling sweaty
- Having chills
- Chest pain or extreme discomfort
- Breathing difficulties
- A feeling of choking
- Feeling a loss of control
- A fear of dying
How to Stop a Panic Attack at Night
Now, after all we have discussed above, you may be wondering how to stop nocturnal attacks at night. Here we discuss some remedies to cope with and stop panic attacks at night:
- Relax – Consider doing some breathing exercises as they come with a lot of benefits which include but are not limited to: calming down anxiety, improving sleep, improving blood flow, increasing your energy levels, and the likes.
- Get distracted – If you are feeling overwhelmed by the symptoms of the panic attack, consider finding something to distract yourself. You could watch a movie, listen to music, or even read a book. Whatever helps you feel calm and safe, do it.
- Chill – “Chilling” could have a variety of meanings for different people, but when we say chill, we literally mean chill. Get some ice packs and place them on different parts of your body, such as your neck or back. Alternatively, drink some ice cold water or any other beverage that gives you a cooling sensation.
- Go do some exercise – Did you know that regular exercise can reduce stress, anxiety and depression? Those are some causes of panic attacks. Therefore, setting aside time to engage in a bit of light exercise may also serve as a great distraction for you.
- Accept it – If you are having a panic attack, do not fight it. Instead, accept that it is happening and let it go away on its own. You should also keep in mind that it is temporary and will pass eventually. You just need to let it happen.
- Fall asleep again when you are ready – Do not force yourself to go back to sleep straight after you have had a panic attack. Instead, go to sleep when you are feeling tired again and practice some breathing techniques just before you sleep as well.
How to Prevent Panic Attacks?
Here we refer to some long-term strategies that will aid you in preventing future panic attacks at night:
Allow yourself to have enough sleep
Although adults need roughly 8 hours of sleep each night, many do not get as much sleep. Therefore, it is extremely important to get at least 7–8 hours of sleep each night to feel completely rested and refreshed. When you do not get enough rest, it often results in constant clock checking and tiredness, which can heighten your anxiety levels and cause a panic attack.
Prepare in advance for the following day
When you are stressed about the following day, you may struggle to sleep. Therefore, in order to avoid the anxiety that comes along with it, you may want to consider having everything prepared in advance. Compiling a to-do list and completing it before bed will make you sleep better and be less anxious.
Have a consistent sleep routine
Expanding on the above point about having at least 7–8 hours per night, you may want to try and go to sleep at the same time every day. Therefore, planning relaxing activities before bed, such as having a bubble bath or reading a book, may result in you having a good night’s rest.
Cut down on caffeine and sugar before bedtime
Did you know the above-mentioned substances are proven to make you feel anxious at night and further prevent you from falling asleep, or worse yet, staying asleep? Therefore, limiting the intake of these substances can definitely allow you to sleep better.
Leave your electronics alone before bedtime
It is suggested that you should avoid using your electronic devices 30–60 minutes before your set bedtime. The light given by these devices can keep you awake, which results in sleeping later and not getting a sufficient amount of rest.
When to Consider Treatment?
Whether you are currently experiencing normal panic attacks or nocturnal ones, there is help available. It’s important to seek treatment if you start to notice that you change your behavior trying to avoid panic attacks or have strong anxiety before sleep.
For many, the first step to recovery would be scheduling an appointment with a professional medical practitioner. Within these appointments, your doctor can offer assistance by ruling out other possible medical and sleep-related conditions. They could further advise you on your possible treatment options as well, which include the following:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be quite effective in treating both day and nighttime panic attacks. In this type of therapy, a therapist helps you not only understand your symptoms but guides you on how to confront them within a safe environment. CBT also introduces you to techniques that help you better manage your panic attacks.
You can also engage in therapy through online counseling you can comfortably reach from your home. Online therapy is also beneficial for people experiencing nocturnal panic attacks because it allows you to discuss your attacks the next day without waiting for a week.
Alternatively, a doctor may prescribe you some medication to help treat anxiety. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or benzodiazepines have shown to be rather effective, especially when treating people who suffer from nocturnal panic attacks.
Experiencing panic attacks, especially during the nighttime, can be extremely terrifying. However, you do not have to go through it alone, and help is evidently available. If you are experiencing frequent panic attacks and find that you can’t cope alone, we encourage you to consider any kind of therapy. If you are interested in online therapy, we are here to help.